There are a few great drum kits on the market that bridge the gap between entry-level and intermediate status. The Tama Imperialstar is one of them. The Imperialstar name is quite famous as Tama was rolling these kits out all over the place in the 70s and 80s.
However, the modern version of the Imperialstar is quite different from the vintage one. I’m going to give you a full breakdown of the kit and help you decide whether it’s something you should get. Let’s jump right in.
What is the Tama Imperialstar?
The Tama Imperialstar is an entry-level drum kit from Tama that comes with drums, hardware, and cymbals. It’s a full drum kit setup that will get you playing from the moment you set it up. While it’s an entry-level set, it’s advertised to work for intermediate drummers as well.
Just out of curiosity, here’s where the kit stands on Tama’s drum kit product lineup:
- Tama Rhythm Mate
- Tama Imperialstar
- Tama Superstar Classic
- Tama Superstar Hyper-Drive
- Tama S.L.P Series
- Tama Starclassic
- Tama Star
As you can see, it’s quite near to the bottom, but that’s the beauty of the kit. It’s an affordable drum set that works surprisingly well for drummers who have been playing for a few years.
When you buy the drum set, you get the following things:
- A full set of Tama Imperialstar poplar shells
- A straight cymbal stand
- A boom cymbal stand
- A hi-hat stand
- A full set of Meinl HCS cymbals (14” hi-hats, 16” crash, and 20” ride)
- A Tama Imperialstar drum throne
- A Tama single-chain drive pedal
Let’s take a closer look at each component included with the kit.
The shells have 6-ply poplar shells. These shells give the drums a full-bodied, warm tone that has a fairly medium attack. This basically means that the drums don’t sound too aggressive, and they don’t ring with crazy overtones when they’re tuned properly.
The wraps on the shells are glued all around, eliminating lifting over time which keeps the drums looking sharp for a long period of time.
The current version of the kit has 6 available finishes:
- Black Oak Wrap (my personal favorite)
- Natural Zebrawood Wrap
- Vintage White Sparkle
- Candy Apple Mist
- Hairline Black
- Hairline Blue
With the finishes available and the relatively decent tones these drums produce, this kit is quite an attractive option for many drummers looking for a warm-sounding kit.
The kit comes shipped with Meinl’s HCS cymbals. The HCS Series is the entry-level series of cymbals from Meinl, and they have a large reputation for being some of the best-sounding entry-level cymbals on the market.
These are the cymbals that I would recommend every beginner get if they want something that sounds relatively decent for a cheap price. They sound bright but have a short sustain when hit hard.
However, the cymbals are where a bit of a divide happens with this kit. The drums themselves would work well for some intermediate drummers, but the cymbals definitely wouldn’t as they’re entry-level brass cymbals.
The hardware that comes with the kit is fairly standard for a kit at this price. The stands are double-braced, but they don’t have any wow-factor that puts them above the competitor drum kits. However, there are a few hardware designs on the actual drum kit that I really enjoy.
Firstly, the tom mounts are amazing. I remember thinking the tom mounts on an Imperialstar kit I taught on a few years ago were dismal. They weren’t comfortable at all to move around whenever I need to. In 2019, Tama released this kit with a new tom mount design, and this new one is incredible.
The toms connect to an L-rod that moves around on a ball-and-mount system. Being able to move the toms around like this allows you to put them in any position that you can think of. There’s no locking them in certain places like there is with similar kits. Tama calls these the Omnisphere tom holders.
I also really love the spur brackets for the bass drum legs. They make the bass drum feel incredibly stable, no matter how hard you’re playing.
As expected with all intermediate drum sets, the Tama Imperialstar has some low-quality single-ply drumheads on it. Stock drumheads are rarely good, so I can’t fault the kit for that as it’s the same with every other kit in its price range.
If you want to get the best tone that you can possibly can out of these drums, you should replace the stock drumheads as soon as possible. I’d suggest getting double-ply heads as they’ll do a great job of eliminating unwanted overtones from all the drums.
The drums themselves will last a very long time. If you take good care of them, clean the rims every now and then, and let everything breathe in a fresh room, the kit will remain in pristine condition. I’m not convinced about the cymbal stands, though.
Although they’re double-braced, the legs of each stand are quite thin. Thinner legs never last as long, so you might end up buying some heavy-duty stands a few years down the line. The same can be said about the bass drum pedal that comes with the kit.
The cymbals will also need to be upgraded as you become a more proficient drummer. You’ll find yourself yearning for better cymbal tones once you listen to more music and develop the ability to play with it.
This kit is quite versatile. While the vintage Imperialstar was a huge rock kit back in the day, I can see this drum kit being used for several styles of music in varying settings. You’d just need to tune the drums a bit differently to cater to different styles.
Since the kit comes with everything in one purchase, it’s also a fantastic drum kit to have in a teaching studio. It has a decent sound, so it would work very well as the kit that your students can play on.
Pros and Cons
- Full drum set with hardware and cymbals
- Excellent for beginners and decent for intermediate drummers
- Excellent tom mounting hardware
- Stock drumheads are disappointing
I can confidently say that this is one of the best drum kits to get for new drummers. It’s at the top of the list when it comes to entry-level kits. If you just started playing drums, one of these kits would give you a good 5 years of use before you’re going to find yourself wanting something better.
When it comes to intermediate drummers, I’d say this kit is a relatively decent choice. However, you’d need to get better cymbals to replace the Meinl HCS cymbals. You’d be amazed at the difference higher-quality cymbals will make to the overall drum kit sound.
Alternate Product Recommendations
Ludwig Element Evolution
The Ludwig Element Evolution is the direct competitor to the Imperialstar. It’s also a top-end entry-level poplar kit that comes with hardware and cymbals.
The big difference is that it comes with Zildjian I cymbals instead of Meinl HCS. The drums also sound a bit better in the lower tuning ranges. Other than that, the kits are mostly the same. Your choice of which one to get will come down to which brands you prefer and which finish you want for the kit.
I have a full breakdown and review of the kit, which you can check out here to see all the details.
- Includes hardware and cymbals
- Sound great in low to medium tuning
- Includes two boom cymbal stands
- Stock drumheads aren’t good
The Pearl Roadshow is a much cheaper option compared to the Imperialstar. It’s arguably the highest-quality cheap entry-level kit on the market. It’s also made of poplar shells and comes with hardware and cymbals. However, the cymbals are no-name brand models that don’t sound amazing.
I’d suggest getting this kit for a child who wants to learn to play the drums. The drums and hardware are excellent, and a child won’t worry too much about the quality of the cymbals at first.
If you want to get the kit for yourself, you’re going to find yourself wanting to get better cymbals very quickly!
I’ve also done a full review of this kit which you can check out here.
- Excellent kit for beginners and children
- Heavy-duty Pearl hardware
- Comes in a few different configuration options
- Included cymbals are very weak
The Rydeen is Yamaha’s entry-level drum set. It’s not quite as popular as all the other sets on this list, but it’s a fairly decent option that competes with the Pearl Roadshow. I’m always impressed with the construction of Yamaha drum kits, even in their lower-tier products.
So, this is an excellent affordable drum kit to consider getting if you want the trusted Yamaha construction. The snare drum, in particular, sounds excellent! Unfortunately, the kit doesn’t come with cymbals or hardware. However, that means the price is very low which is a huge bonus.
- Sturdy Yamaha construction
- Fantastic snare drum sound
- High-quality kit for beginners
- No hardware or cymbals included
Tama Superstar Classic
If you loved everything about the Tama Imperialstar and have a bit of a bigger budget to spend, you should look at the Tama Superstar classic. This is an intermediate maple drum set that has massive drum sounds for every setting.
You can get the kit in either a 5-piece or 7-piece setup, and there are an impressive number of beautiful finishes to choose from.
The Superstar Classic is an excellent kit for intermediate drummers who need a kit to play gigs and do recordings with. The maple shells will be a huge step up from the poplar shells of the Imperialstar.
You can check out a full review of the kit here.
- Higher-quality maple drum set
- Great for gigging and recording
- Impressive number of finish options
- More expensive than the Imperialstar
Answer: The modern version of the Imperialstar is made of poplar while the vintage one had luan shells. Also, the modern version mostly has beginners and intermediate drummers playing it. As drum technology has advanced over time, poplar drum kits aren’t used much by pro drummers.
The vintage Imperialstar, on the other hand, had dozens of popular pro drummers playing it back in the day. You can hear it being played on countless albums and live video recordings.
Answer: You may think it’s not good for professional use. As I said, pro drummers don’t use the kit. However, it could be passable on a professional stage if you made a few upgrades.
You’d need to swap the Meinl HCS cymbals out completely for higher-quality cymbals. You’d also need to replace all the drumheads with better-sounding ones.
Lastly, you’d get a much better overall drum kit sound if you replaced the Imperialstar snare drum with a better one. One of the snares from Tama’s S.L.P. range would work perfectly.
Answer: The Rhythm Mate is Tama’s cheapest entry-level kit. It’s the most affordable current kit that you can get from Tama that has classic Tama design qualities. While the Imperialstar is also an entry-level set, it has a few higher-quality design features.
The Rhythm Mate doesn’t come with cymbals as the Imperialstar does. However, you can specifically place an order for cymbals to come with the kit at an extra cost.
Overall, the Rhythm Mate is purely for beginners, while the Imperialstar could be used by drummers breaking into the intermediate realm.
Answer: If a drum kit has been properly cared for, it will last decades. So, buying a used set is a fantastic idea if you can find a great deal on pristine-quality drums. It will save you a lot of money compared to buying the same kit new.
There’s always a level of risk involved when buying used drum gear. So, buying a new drum set is the best way of ensuring that you’re getting the best possible version of that kit. However, it will always be more expensive.
These are the factors that need to sway your decision. At the end of the day, I’d only suggest buying a used kit if it’s a deal that you can’t possibly pass up.
Answer: If you’ve never played drums before and are looking for a kit to get started, you should buy an entry-level set. If you have a bit of experience, an intermediate set will always be a better option.
You’ll outgrow an entry-level set a lot faster than you will with an intermediate drum set. So, getting an intermediate kit is a great way of future-proofing yourself.
Just be ready to spend more on an intermediate set, as many of them don’t come with hardware or cymbals as entry-level kits do.
I’d say the Tama Imperialstar and Ludwig Element Evolution are in tight competition for being the best entry-level kits on the market. If you want to get the best sounding drum kit that comes with hardware and cymbals, you should pick between these two kits.
The Tama Imperialstar has a rich history behind it as the vintage Imperialstar kits were loved by rock drummers in the late 20th century. The kit has a more modern touch nowadays, and I know plenty of owners who back it wholeheartedly.
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